Participant Perspectives on the Impact of a School-Based, Experiential Food Education Program Across Childhood, Adolescence, and Young Adulthood

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of nutrition education and behavior








diet; experiential; focus groups; food education; schools


OBJECTIVE: Explore participant perceptions of involvement in an experiential food education program during elementary school and the scope and extent of program influence on food decisions. DESIGN: Focus groups with current participants and program alumni. SETTING: Washington, DC. PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-nine elementary school students and 39 program alumni ranging from middle school through university students. PHENOMENON OF INTEREST: Participant perceptions of program impact from childhood into adolescence and young adulthood. ANALYSIS: Inductive thematic analysis. RESULTS: Nine emergent themes were identified, spread over 3 categories of program impact: immediate, beyond the classroom, and sustained. Immediate program impact themes came from all participants and included enjoyment, hands-on learning, and fostering connection. Beyond the classroom, older elementary students and alumni expressed perceived shifts in individual and family food intake, involvement in household food practices, and desire for fresh food options at school. Themes of sustained program impact among alumni participants were an appreciation for fresh food, openness to trying new foods, and confidence to make informed food decisions. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Findings provide a deeper understanding of participant perspectives on the impact of participation in a school-based experiential food education program and a basis for further research on the role of early exposure to food education in influencing food decisions as children grow older.


Exercise and Nutrition Sciences